Hackney Gazette exclusive: Professor Green interview
The Gazette speaks to Hackney-born Stephen Manderson, aka Professor Green
�Professor Green is not your stereotypical self-obsessed rapper, who “bigs” himself up.
Otherwise known as Stephen Manderson, the 28-year old who grew up on Upper Clapton’s Northwold Estate, hit the news headlines for all the wrong reasons three years ago.
He was left fearing for his life after being bottled in the neck in Shoreditch’s Cargo nightclub and his perpetrator was later sentenced to eight year’s imprisonment.
The 6in gash sliced almost to the bone, and ironically crossed over a tattoo reading “Lucky” he’d had done two weeks earlier.
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The witty, self-deprecating rapper has since had top 10 chart success with a cheeky track sampling INXS’ Need You Tonight, and is brave enough to touch on subjects as powerful as his father’s suicide in Number one hit Read All About It.
Added to that, Professor Green’s got really nice manners, and as we talk on the phone as he’s being chauffeured home in east London on a rare “personal day”, he politely tells me he can spare more time than the 10 minutes his record company Virgin have promised.
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“Its not really a day off, I’m still doing a couple of meetings and promo – but I do have a minute to catch up on washing and trying to sort my life out before I disappear off to Australia,” he tells me.
“I don’t really get time off and when I do I always end up working anyway. I end up in the studio, you know, there’s always something to be done – but that’s cool, it’s not a negative, it’s good to be busy.
“The only negative is that sometimes other people are not so understanding.”
He’ll be touring Down Under with singer Jesse J, and will then start “cracking on” with America before heading back to the UK for a tour and this summer’s Radio 1 Hackney Weekend event on Hackney Marshes, along with the likes of Leona Lewis and Lana Del Rey.
The rapper thinks it’s “wicked” the biggest festival ever staged by Radio 1 is taking place in his home borough in June. It’s set to rival Glastonbury which isn’t happening this year.
“To me it’s nice to think about the Marshes and there being an event like that and all these people coming there to perform. It’s incredible. It never would have happened when I was a kid but I’m happy it’s happening now,” he said.
Professor Green was brought up by his grandmother Patricia not far from the marshes in the area dubbed the “murder mile”.
One of the self-confessed “naughty kids and problem children”, he didn’t bother going to school much as a teenager, instead making cash out of selling weed – hence his stage name, coupled with the fact that he’s really clever.
He paints a bleak picture of the Hackney he knew as a child in Jungle – recorded in 2009 with Maverick Sabre.
Lyrics include: ‘When you’re out here in this jungle, it’s wild round ’ere, you don’t wanna spend a night round ’ere. Aint nothing nice round ’ere, trouble’s what you find round ’ere.
‘Everyday is warring, never give a warning, violence is the only way you settle things, everyday is hating.’
“The thing is all that stuff is so often ignored. People would rather keep quiet about it, keep hush, say ‘no things don’t go on like that’ – but those problems are all real,” he said.
“People always say you’re only portraying the negative aspects of Hackney, but I can’t possibly only portray the negative aspects. Look at how successful I am - just by doing what I do, I’m showing people that’s not the only thing to come out of Hackney.”
But however grim Hackney was, or is, the multicultural environment influenced him musically.
“My nan used to play horrible music like Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue and stuff that wasn’t very cool,” he said.
“But a lot of my friends were from Caribbean backgrounds, so I used to hear a lot of reggae, a lot of ragga and jungle, playing out from the cars on the Northwold estate.”
He would rap along to the tracks, but it wasn’t until he was at his friend’s house years later aged 18 that everyone else realised he had a talent.
“Everyone was messing around free-styling – which is where you kind rap off the cuff – and I was put on the spot to rap the lyrics and everyone was like ‘Crack, you know,’ and I was like, ‘No man please,’ red in the face, ‘Don’t ever make me do that again!’
“Yeah of course I felt nervous, it was just embarrassing, it’s just not what I do.
“But I just started messing around from there and that was how it all came about.”
He saw a flyer advertising a freestyle night in London called LyricPad, and decided to give it a go – and won.
A scout from JumpOff spotted him, and he began taking part in a weekly “battle rap”, a war of words which involves verbally insulting your opponent.
He became the first MC to walk away with the inaugural �50,000 JumpOff MySpace battle rap tournament title in 2008.
That’s an impressive feat, so just how much of it is really off the cuff?
“Not all of what you do when you battle is on the spot. As soon as you start battling you think of lyrics, and you always have a bank of lyrics you can rely on should you need to fall back on them,” he said.
“But the best lines and always the most relevant is when someone says something to you and you flip it back on them, and that can’t be anything other than on the spot because you don’t know what that person’s going to say until they say it –and that’s where the skill comes into it.”
He tries to carry aspects of battling – like trying to engage the crowd – over to his live performances, and when he writes his songs he does it in his head rather than using pen and paper.
The rapper came to know Lily Allen through Facebook, and she is now a good friend after they toured together in 2009.
He teamed up with her for Just Be Good To Green, based on The SOS Band’s Just Be Good To Me, and it made the top 10.
But there’s a lot more to Professor Green than cheesy chart pop.
Read All About It addresses comments made by his father’s widow to the press, accusing Stephen of trying to cash in on his dad’s 2008 suicide.
The heartbreaking track includes lines like: ‘To think, I used to blame me, I wonder what I did to you to make you hate me, I wasn’t even bad, life’s a journey and mine wasn’t an easy ride.
‘Wherever you are I really hope you find peace. But know that if I ever have kids, unlike you I’ll never let them be without me.’
Released last October with backing singing from Emeli Sande, it spent three weeks at Number 1, and Professor Green performed it live on ITV’s X-Factor.
“Read All About It is doing really well in Russia, it’s starting to pick up in Germany, its doing well in Belgium, and Australia,” he said.
“Not long ago it wasn’t something I could have ever imagined. For this to be happening is wicked.
“Sometimes you have to kind of take a step back and really take in everything that’s going on – you do so much and it all kind of passes you by so quickly.”
The rapper’s aim is not to become known personally, but for his music to be appreciated.
“I’m not a reality TV star, I’m not out for fame for fame’s sake, I just want to succeed in the music,” he said.
“I think one thing I learned after the first album and touring and promoting, is that one of the most important things is that you actually enjoy it, and that’s not always the easiest thing to do.
“I keep people who are pals around, I have got a very tight circle of friends with whom I do pretty much everything with and that helps you know.
“But it’s something you have to say to yourself - you’re going to be tired, you’re going to feel like s***, you’re going to be overworked. You just have to get on with it and remember you’re doing something that began from something you loved doing and that you’re extremely fortunate to be able to do that.”
TTo apply for one of the 100,000 free tickets for the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend on June 23-24, register on bbc.co.uk/radio1. A proportion of tickets will be reserved for residents in Hackney and the other five Olympic boroughs.